In recent months, we’ve found ourselves having more frequent conversations with people who have never had medical acupuncture in Washington DC. It’s been a great reminder of how foreign acupuncture—the experience of getting a treatment as well as the underlying theory—still is to the majority of Westerners. Myths and misconceptions about acupuncture are rampant in a society whose medical culture is dominated by pharmaceuticals, surgeries, and other quick-fix interventions. In our recent encounters with the uninitiated, three themes come up again and again.

  1. Acupuncture just isn’t for pain! Ask most people why other people get acupuncture and the majority will say pain. It’s true that acupuncture can work wonders on pain conditions—for everything from low back pain and shoulder pain to migraines and TMJ, acupuncture is on it. However, acupuncture can alleviate a wide variety of ailments that have nothing to do with physical pain. Whether you have digestive issues, gynecological conditions, emotional concerns such as anxiety and depression, asthma, seasonal allergies, you name it, acupuncture can help address your symptoms.
  2. Acupuncturists go to school for a long time. At minimum, a licensed acupuncturist in the United States has been to three years of graduate school. Four years is more common. They hold masters degrees. Some acupuncturists with doctorates have studied at the graduate level for five-plus years!
  3. It’s relaxing! Acupuncture needles are surprisingly thin. They do not bear any resemblance to needles that are used for injections or to draw blood. Once the needles are in, they start working their magic, which is where the relaxation part comes in. Acupuncture helps shift your body out of sympathetic mode (fight or flight) and into parasympathetic mode (rest and digest). It mellows out the nervous system, decreases muscular tension, and helps quiet internal chatter.